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  Owner Review - Hymer Camp Swing 544K

 
 

LHD ‘2000 model’ on Fiat 2.8TDi - bought new on 29/03/01 in Germany.

The CS544K - An Introduction:  We chose this particular Hymer following quite a long search both in the Hymer CS544K outside PalmowskiUK and in Germany. We decided that our needs were; a family van with adequate rear seat belts, a fixed bed, a good bathroom, adequate kitchen, enough space and good light for relaxing for all when not outside, good low level storage for our outdoor kit and it had to fit in an 18’6" parking space! This would be a Tardis indeed! In practice there just aren’t any motorcaravans completely meeting the spec in the required length, so as usual, compromises were required, something had to give - in our case it was the kitchen (rather to my surprise I might add!)..

The Camp Swing 544K is one of Hymer’s ‘entry-level’ coachbuilts having a classic dinette and side couch layout with end kitchen and corner bathroom. Being at the budget end of their range and also rather shorter than usual, it’s a bit of an ugly duckling with none of the modern aerodynamic styling of the dearer vehicles. Hymer’s graphics do a fair job of concealing the boxiness without being gaudy and the very square rear end looks much better with the optional bike rack fitted. Hymer quality is apparent however in much of the construction - still their PU/Aluminium sandwich walls with a six year water ingress warranty for example.

Driving:  Apart from being LHD the cab is standard Fiat. Cab interior - LHDBeing a German ‘van the cab is pretty bare too - rubber mats, original Fiat seats, no radio supplied, standard dashboard, manual windows, etc. The optional 2.8TDi engine (larger engines are greatly favoured by The Germans) makes driving this motorcaravan much more of a pleasure with instant starting and plenty of power and control right from cold. No more struggling to keep up with trucks on long inclines, no more struggling to get off wet grass on choke, and 26/7 mpg even with that huge over-cab Luton - heaven. It does come with a cost however, the noise from the bigger diesel is pretty overpowering at speed and of course always very loud compared with a petrol engine. A sound-proofing kit fitted by BJ Acoustics helped quite a bit with engine noise but tyre roar from the big Michelin Camping Tyres and also wind noise above 60 mph is still very intrusive. (And now at 14,000+ miles the engine is just loosening up nicely).

At lower speeds the driving experience is really quite civilised, the power steering and excellent turning circle along with that 2.8 engine make for an almost car-like drive. Visibility is relatively poor as it is with all coachbuilts but Hymer have specified the extended twin mirrors which do help. Rear visibility is very poor indeed and a camera is needed for comfort and confidence in tight spots. The short wheelbase chassis makes this a very manoeuvrable vehicle but also leads to less stability on motorways where the draught from other traffic does tend to knock one off course somewhat, roll is also noticeable but not unmanageable. This short wheelbase is forced on the designer as a consequence of a rear door layout in a 5½ metre ‘van; having a medium wheelbase base vehicle would force a mid door layout which we didn’t want. This is a very good example of the compromises that have to be faced with such a restrictive spec!

The Fiat cab seats seem a little unyielding at first but are very good on long journeys with good support where it’s needed. Rear passengers fare less well, though the 2x3 point and 2x2 point crash tested seat belts fitted to the dinette are very welcome giving six approved seats. (on later models there are 3x3 point + 1x2 point belts ). The dinette seats are nowhere near as supportive of course, and the ride is uncomfortable for some. This is a problem with many dinettes, the front portion offers only ‘back to engine’ seating and the rear portion is often over the rear axle; some travellers won’t be bothered by any of this, while others might feel quite nauseous! Rear travellers can open and secure the side window just a fraction to get some air while on the move but they do rattle somewhat when secured like this on the move.

Relaxing:  This particular layout offers both the dinette and a side couch for relaxing. Interior dinette and couchooking forwardThe dinette with its generous table is excellent when you want to use a laptop or spread out some magazines, maps and guidebooks while the couch beckons rather more for lounging. We have been somewhat surprised that we haven’t used the couch as much as we expected - how much that is due to lack of comfort isn’t yet clear. The foams and fillings used in these areas are rather firm for British taste and not of sufficiently high quality for real comfort. This is partly a consequence of the budget ‘entry level’ spec of course and in practical terms it’s cheaper to upgrade the fillings than to buy a higher spec ‘van! This is not a difficult process since all the covers unzip for easy cleaning - or filling changes. Back cushions are wedge shaped but the seat cushions are dead square, this makes for a good flat bed but offers little thigh support for those of us with longer legs. We solved the problem by having long foam wedges made up to Velcro easily to the underside of the front edge of the cushions for seating and to be easily removed for sleeping. We’ve also added some quite large scatter cushions to improve lounging comfort. In our second year we've replaced the original Hymer firm and rather 'dead', foam with some softer more resilient stuff from SM Upholstery of Cardiff and are much happier now with both seating and sleeping comfort.

The TV cupboard positioning means viewing is easy from the dinette and possible from the over-cab bed but near impossible from the couch. Heating is provided by a Truma fire plus thermostatic blown air system with controllable outlets everywhere they are needed, especially the bathroom and even one into the front cab plus a heated duct under the over-cab mattress. Gauges to check on fresh and waste water levels plus leisure and vehicle battery voltage are provided on the wardrobe wall over the couch. The adequate wardrobe is over the boiler installation so pre-warmed coats are a bonus in winter - but make sure you don't leave chocolate in the pockets!!

The choice of interior fabrics is a very personal affair and some of the Hymer offerings have been a bit severe of late but we’re very fond of the abstract grey & blue scheme in ours. Voile curtains to soften the look of the standard fly screens & blinds are a nice touch in a budget 'van. The lighting is generally very good with two semi-spots serving the dinette and another pair at roof level for more general lighting if required, there’s also a fluorescent over the couch that is really quite unpleasant by comparison. Daylight is available in plenty thanks to the two big side windows and the large ‘Heki style’ vent overhead. This was one of the selling points for us - there really is a very light and airy feel to the living area. These top-hung windows feature single handed opening despite their size and have four retaining positions from just ‘cracked open’ to almost full open with the window itself near horizontal - excellent. Another thing we like is that these windows are barely tinted - we know tinting is fashionable but we like to feel as if we are actually in the country rather than just looking at it! In contrast the window catches are slightly vulnerable - the self-locking mechanism is easy to break if you forget to press the release catch at the right moment. Breakage would leave the vehicle poorly secured but since the catches are very easy to replace we now carry a spare!.

Eating:  Eating obviously uses the same dinette seating as referred to under relaxing so many of the same comments apply. The table is of generous proportions so that four can dine with relative comfort and two can spread out in French picnic fashion. A table extension would be needed to enable another one or two people to eat comfortably from the couch, Hymer offer an extending table as an option. The table is much lighter weight than it appears, being hollow. There’s no dedicated storage space for it but owners seem to use the space behind the passenger cab seat (restricting the full seat movement) or the wardrobe or quite commonly they simply leave it in position while travelling.

Birdwatching from dinetteIf the overhead lockers on the table side are used for lightweight crockery and acrylic ‘glassware’ and so on, the whole arrangement seems quite convenient with at least two people being able to contribute to mealtime preparation without falling over each other. The shaped work surface at the back of the dinette links the kitchen and dining areas well and serves as a very useful transfer and/or dishing up area. In many of our favourite remote spots the ability to eat by a giant picture window has been a great pleasure. It is also very useful fully open if ‘serving’ to outside hordes! I can however imagine others who would see this feature as a lack of privacy and would hate it!

Sleeping:  There are lots of possible variants here so perhaps I’d better deal with them individually and also confess that we haven’t personally tried them all!

Plan of interiorThe over-cab bed is both large and permanent and is normally our preferred spot. The optional ‘Federkernpolster’ like all the furnishings, is a bit on the firm side and we have softened it with some quality 'egg-box foam'. The bed base is ribbed to give some ventilation to the underside and we have not experienced any moisture problems. Fittings include a single lamp (thoughtfully only 5W) and window at one end plus a compartmentalised plastic moulding that runs along the leading edge of the Luton. I guess this acts as a reinforcement for the Luton but is also a very useful retainer for night time requisites like water and an alarm clock - especially with some slip-stop fitted when all except the water can be left in place. We’d like to add a second window and lamp at the other end so that I can always sleep with my head above my feet even if there are other reasons to park the ‘van the ‘wrong way round’. There is a safety net if required and curtains for privacy or simply to keep out that very early morning light. This has turned out to be our grand-daughter's preferred sleeping area too - so we now have fuller experience of the other beds!

Headroom is always an issue in over-cab beds and although one of the best in its class the Hymer is restricted at about 60 cm at the front, falling away only a couple of cm or so for the first 90 cm where the curve at the front of the Luton begins. This means it’s not possible to sit up in bed and read though you can watch TV from bed, semi-reclining, should you wish! The person sleeping nearest the front of the ‘van gets the worst deal since they have the least headroom, have to clamber over their partner to get in and out and also have to stretch a little if trying to watch TV. Some unexpected features were discovered one night in Galloway in a December storm - first the sideways movement of the van in gusting winds feels huge 'up top' and second the noise of heavy rain on the roof just inches away can be deafening! Getting in and out is reasonably easy by over-cab standards but anyone less sprightly might find it all rather difficult. The thing I would say at this point is that many of the alternative ‘vans we looked at were worse with less headroom still! The supplied access ladder locates securely on the bed edge but is rather hard on the feet - wider treads (or some attached carpet perhaps!) would be a help here. It would be impossible to use the ladder if all the downstairs beds were all being fully used simultaneously. No wonder so many people use the over-cab as a bed for children or simply for storage. In the end the choice is yours - there’s no hassle with bed making but getting in and out is plainly more difficult. For us the ready-to-fall-into bed is the big attraction and worth the effort - though we now make up the dinette bed if a major storm is brewing!

The dinette bed is a reasonable size considering the compactness of the ‘van. It can be made up as a three-quarter double or large single by removing the head restraints and back cushions, dropping the table into position in the middle and re-arranging the cushions including one special infill that we normally keep in the Luton. This leaves the normal aisle and ladder access to the over-cab untouched. A larger bed is made by pulling out two substantial side extensions and adding the long cushion from the couch backrest. This long infill has its own rigid base built in. Plainly there is no headroom problem here and access to kitchen and bathroom is easy, as it is to the big side window should you want to see as well as hear the early birds! We've replaced the cushion foam as mentioned earlier and decided to create a new larger infill in the process, this means that the dinette backrests are no longer required as part of the bed and can now be filled with something much softer for lounging comfort. When not in use overnight they are stored in the cab .

The long side couch can also be used as a short single bed by simply removing the backrest cushions from their Velcro attachment. The base also slides out to make a wider three foot unit with the addition of the other half of the backrest - though this again encroaches on the aisle and ladder space. Finally you can make up both the dinette and couch to their fullest extent and use them as one giant double! So we can have one large double in the Luton plus a small or normal double downstairs plus a side single or one giant double - adaptable or what?

Shutting up shop at night is very easy, the cab/lounge dividing curtains are drawn across and fly screens and/or blinds are closed on all the windows and roof vents. The cab curtains really should have more overlap at their ends to close off light and cold air more efficiently and as previously remarked all beds would benefit from better, more resilient foams and fillings. Maybe manufacturers should offer this as an optional extra as part of a ‘comfort pack’?

There's a slight problem with the 'van rocking in wind or if one of the occupants gets up in the night. I think this would be true of all designs with a large rear body overhang. Wind-down rear stabilisers would be a great help here.

Cooking:  Combined hob & sink unitThis was the area we ‘sacrificed to get everything else in, it’s a very small kitchen with minimal facilities - in particular no grill and no oven and just two rings (3 on later models). Despite this, the design has been carefully thought out and does work well in practice, particularly if the cook is adaptable - see Dilys’ recipes! Our cooker is simply a two ring gas hob built into a draining board alongside the sink. The whole thing is covered with fold up worktops and a folding heat shield and is illuminated with a diffused eye level fluorescent. The worktop over the sink is ingenious in that can be folded out to three different positions, one of which gives an additional elevated small work surface. The fold out heat shield is rather over-long and is a bit fiddly too but it has been modified on later models. Over the sink is a peg board to which we’ve added an accessory spice rack and row of hooks.

Under this working area there’s an 83 litre 3-way fridge and combined cupboard with general storage, slide out wire tray, cutlery drawer, small waste bin, gas taps and even access to the plumbing. There’s no room for a conventional oven. Clever though all this is, it wouldn’t be enough without the cupboard opposite, which is built onto the back of the dinette with a curved front and additional work surface. This cupboard swallows a vast amount, everything from wine, water, jams, herbs & spices to tea, coffee & cafetières and provides an essential worktop between the cooking and dining areas. Posher models also have a chrome pole extending to the ceiling supporting elevated chrome trays - another clever use of height and layer to solve the space problem. Later models have a much modified cupboard here, it looks a much less useful item but I'm not sure how it compares in practice.

Ventilation is possible via the back window (but very awkward to reach over the cooker and folding bits), the main door and via a roof light over the cook’s head. Draughts from the door can be a problem to the two gas rings though the fly screen can help there, Dilys fancies a stable door in place of the standard one piece door. Worth mentioning here is the convenient location of the electric step and access light switches next to the door. Sensibly, they are live even when the 12V leisure system is off and they are easily reached both from inside the ‘van and outside when one is at ground level. The kitchen roof vent is rather Teutonic in that you need to be 6 foot plus and have a strong grip to release and push open the vent. When will manufactures give us a electric vents that open via a remote push button? An extractor over the hob would have been an excellent addition too but I think it’s only available on the dearer models. Other criticisms are that the eye-level fluorescent should be properly baffled not just diffused and that the small waste bin is rather a waste of time - perhaps it would be better to build a decent one into the main door as on some Italian ‘vans. But perhaps that would interfere with the fly screen - compromises again! Criticisms aside it is remarkable just how well this very small space does work.

Washing:  The 544K’s excellent bathroom was another of its selling points for us.Bathroom It is virtually all moulded curvy plastic in white and blue with three large mirrors giving a light and airy ‘Tardis effect’ but with plenty of dedicated dry areas for toiletries, tissue and the like. There’s no loo roll holder but then what would be the point in a shower area?? There are dry cupboards for that. Some people won’t like the plastic of course but it is immensely practical being clean, fresh and waterproof and of course it is light in weight as well as appearance and so helps the payload and in particular the back axle loading. (Heavy weights this far back can add more than 1.5x their own weight to the back axle). There’s no bathroom window but there is a good roof vent and the shower and wash area is combined along with the fitted swivel cassette. This suits us fine, we’re not great fans of separate areas because they take up too much room and each area becomes too small in any case. Lighting is tungsten again but fairly powerful as it should be here and a nice touch is the blown air outlet by the toilet - wonderful if you’re a winter camper!

The shower is very good though the new combined sink tap / showerhead design is not quite as good for tall people as the old one, water is delivered on-demand by a 12V pump submerged in the 120 litre fresh water tank under the front dinette seat and heating is provided by the now ubiquitous Truma boiler which is electronically started and controlled. The shower tray has a shaped channel to assist run off into the 100 litre waste tank but as usual the designer has assumed a level ‘van whereas in practice many people will park on a slight tilt to ensure their heads are higher than their feet while sleeping and that tends to be in the opposite direction to the designated shower run-off! Being at the back in that critical overhang area the waste tank should be emptied at every opportunity and Hymer have made this very easy with a substantial remote ‘tap’ and 40 mm piping. (Some early signs of the water pump failing have suggested to us that this would be another very useful spare to carry in the 'van!)

Storing:  This is always tricky in a small ‘van but Hymer have worked wonders here. There are good storage cupboards at high level on both sides and at the back of the ‘van. Hymer’s judgement about the balance between capacity and visual dominance is just right with nothing feeling oppressive but offering substantial capacity for lighter items like underwear, shirts, gloves, etc. The cupboards are cleverly shaped and trimmed to disguise their bulk. Not all came with internal shelves so we’ve added some ourselves - be warned that the Hymer genuine spares are very expensive!

Virtually the whole of the rear dinette seat base is available for Exterior lockersheavy storage as is the couch base and both are amidships at floor level so are ideal for this. Access in both cases is via a lifting lid which is not as convenient as slide-outs but does make every inch of space available. Temporarily removing cushions allows free and unhindered access to both areas and in the case of the couch there is external locker access too. I’ve not seen this on UK ‘vans but it is very popular in Germany. There are other external lockers including the cassette service hatch which also has plenty of room for fluids, tissue, waste pipes and more. Nearby is a skirt level drop-down door used to store a spare cassette (extra). On it’s bigger cousin the 544M this is a very useful full body width storage space - ideal for picnic stuff, parasols, skis, etc!!.

Further towards the front is the gas locker with the Triomatic automatic change over system. We’ve kept the German gas system and regulators and added UK adaptors to take 2x 11 Kg Propane bottles. These only just fit and so far we’ve only been able to get them from Alta Gas, FloGas and Budget Gas, everyone else wanting to give us 7 or 13 Kg bottles. All catches and the water inlet use a common key and locker catches have a neat arrangement whereby you pre-lock them while open, continue to use them in that state and finally lock them with a sharp tap once properly closed. The spare wheel is somewhat inaccessible mounted under the rear floor but where else would you put it? And anyway I’m not planning on using it much!!

All this storage is no use of course unless you have the payload to cope and the 544K on its 3.4 tonne chassis scores well here with a claimed 810 Kg payload. This figure is fairly generous even for a 5 berth ‘van where about 700 Kg would be reasonable - but unfortunately not all manufacturers get it right, one famously has a 4 berth model with less than 300 Kg available payload!

Problems?  There have been very few really, the trim around the big roof light cracked, the bathroom tap ceased to be very controllable and the leisure battery failed very early. All have been dealt with under warranty by our German dealer who has been helpful and efficient throughout, even lending us a car while the work was done. Unlike the UK importers who are equally helpful but seem(ed?) to have inefficiency, delay and cock-up as their middle names. Other than that there have been a few minor issues of our own making - like the curtain hooks being too frail for us so we have to keep replacing the broken ones, the broken window catch mechanism, and now a broken long bed infill when we simply put too much weight on its middle. We will replace this lightweight block-board base panel with stronger but heavier plywood. You could argue that these items should be more robust or that we should be more careful - take your pick!

A niggling problem was the tendency of the TV to drop out when other electrics were used - in particular any motor like the water pump. This was originally put down to the poor condition of the failing Gel battery but persisted when we installed the twin Elecsol leisure batteries. Needless to say neither grand-daughter nor I were too pleased if a favourite video dropped out just because someone washed their hands! We took advice from knowledgeable 'sparkies' and decided that the wiring to the TV was too thin. I installed a run of heavier gauge twin wires direct from leisure batteries to TV and the problem was solved. To maintain the convenience of the single all-off switch I wired the new run via a relay and a substantial in-line fuse. Extra 12v outlets, one DIN and one cigar-lighter socket, were added under the long couch at the same time. I might get round to replacing the wiring to the water pump as well since running one of the taps does still dim the lights!

There is a general problem in very hot weather with fridges struggling to keep up. We've only seen this abroad when temperatures are in the upper 30s in relatively still air. This problem is not unique to Hymer and the fact that these fridges often work better on 12v while travelling gives a clue to the cause. Extra air circulation is needed in the fridge vent to get all that heat away from the back of the fridge. Companies like CAK sell thermostatically controlled 12v cooling fans for just this purpose so we might soon solve that one.

And the verdict? Well overall we’re very happy with this little Hymer and believe that sensible compromises have been made trying to get the proverbial quart into a pint pot and at entry level prices too. Of course it wouldn’t suit everybody but it suits us and our extended family at the moment and in the same circumstances we would buy the same again. In practice of course circumstances are never the same and who knows what we’ll go for next time!

Neill King  neill@nkp.biz


The Reviews

This is the first of our ‘owner reviews’ where we hope to see some real feedback from real owners about real life experiences.

I’ve tried to make my comments objective and to take into account that our lifestyle and preferences might not suit everybody. In some ways this might be the essence of a good review - not simply saying "I think this is best” but rather a broad view of the pros and cons of the various features.

Anyway let me know what you think of it, we’re open to suggestions and will incorporate them into a general guide for anyone who wants to submit their own review. Click on to comment submit or just enquire.

These reviews are all presented as long pages but at least you can read or print the entire article without having to follow several links!


Terminology

Coach-built; a 'caravan' style body added to a light commercial chassis with original cab. Often has an over-cab bed or store commonly known as a 'Luton' in the UK.

Camping tyres; commercial grade tyres specially designed to cope with long periods of inactivity while still carrying about 80% of their design load plus use at sustained continental speeds while fully loaded.

Slip-stop; a semi sticky and rubbery, open weave, mat obtainable from accessory shops. Has amazing anti-slip properties, try a small square of it on your dashboard to hold loose items in place while driving!

Dinette; a simple couch and table arrangement normally accommodating 2 or 4 people. More popular on continental vans but becoming more common as a UK option - mostly because it offers an easier design route for fitting seat belts I think.

Heki; a brand name for a very large opening roof-light which usually has a clear cover too.

3-way fridge; one that works on 230v 'mains' when 'hooked up', on lpg gas when no mains is available and on 12v from the 'van while travelling.

Payload; the amount of carrying capacity remaining for your own possessions. These are commercial vehicles with laid down weight limits so the manufacturer has to get all the furniture and appliances into the 'van while still allowing you sufficient payload for all your gear - to say nothing of the cases of wine you'll want to bring back from La France!

Payload postscript: the latest payload figures quoted by manufacturers follow a stricter code than previously so now the weight of the driver plus some gas and fresh water is taken into account before arriving at an available payload figure. This of course makes a marginal 300 Kg payload rather less marginal than before!  Do note that everyone apart from the driver must be covered within the payload figure.


A Wish List

Things we now know that we would really like to add to cope with our needs and those of the family too, are ...

A reversing camera.

A roll-out awning for added shade - both personal and to keep the 'van itself rather cooler.

A thermostatic fridge vent fan to improve fridge efficiency in really hot weather.

An exterior gas and water point for barbeques and hose downs.

Stabilisers to keep the 'van still if someone gets up in the middle of the night.

A roof rack for those family holidays that include tents and kitchen sinks!

Air-conditioning for those hot breaks abroad.

A bit more bed comfort still.

Possibly solar and/or wind power to keep us going longer in wild places.


Statistics

All conversions are approximate.

Ducato 14 chassis rated at 3400Kg MPLM

Fiat 2.8 TDi engine rated at 90kW, 122PS

Length 5.54m 18’ 3”
Width 2.27m 7’ 6”
Height 2.88m 9’ 6”

Payload 810 Kg

Fridge 83 litre

Belted seats 6
Berths 5 (4+1)

Over-cab bed
212 x 145 7’ x 4’ 9”

Middle bed
190 x 125 6’ 3” x 4’ 1”
(or 3’4” without extension)

Side bed
175 x 90 5’ 10 x 3’

Note: In our experience most bed lengths are slightly exaggerated, often incorporating structural woodwork too. In practice the 544’s are about 6’ 2” and 5’ 9”.

Leisure batteries
Twin 110 AHr
(our own addition).

12V sockets
2 only, one in TV cupboard one in bathroom.

230V sockets
2 only, one in TV cupboard and one in kitchen.

To access the Hymer website click here

 

Modifications & Additions:

Omnistor Awning.

Bike Rack.

Reversing Camera.

Softer Upholstery Foams.

Refillable gas bottles.

Exterior BBQ Point.

Roof TV Aerial plus integrated  audio + amp + cd player + tv.

Headlamp Protectors.

 


 
All material copyright Motorcaravanning.com and/or Neill & Dilys King 1999 - 2013 unless otherwise stated.